Hope- the Antidote to Despair
Last Sunday was Advent Sunday and I’ve not had an opportunity to write to you about Advent until now. The season of Advent begins a new Church year and is often described as the four-week preparation for Jesus’ birth. However, Advent is more about looking forward to the hope of Jesus’ return than it is a remembering of his birth.
The second coming of Jesus is not an event we think much about these days. It’s mostly dismissed as a fervent, if misguided, expectation of the Early Church – now best ignored because 2000+ years later we now know that Jesus is not scheduled for a return, at least not any time soon as far as any of us can tell. A pervasive atmosphere of despair is one of the results of this dismissive attitude; born of a century and a half of liberal theological arrogance that misses the whole point of the season of Advent.
It makes no sense to recall the birth of Jesus, without simultaneously looking forward to his ultimate return - for in the time in between - we are called to live lives of hope as we await with patience the final completion of God’s putting to rights the wrongness in the world.
Risking disappointment is the price of hope. Without hope many of us willingly choose despair over the fear of disappointment. After all, as my grandmother used to say: you can’t miss what you’ve never had. The root of this sentiment is - don’t hope for things you might not get.
Advent is a time of waiting in hope for that which is yet to come. And here’s the rub. If hope’s too risky, then waiting is also something we no longer tolerate very well in our modern age of Amazon-inspired instant gratification. The promise and also the challenge of Advent is that faith, hope, and love are only realized in the waiting (T.S.Eliot).
The great systematic theologian Paul Tillich - someone a surprising number of us still remember from our 60’s and 70’s liberal arts college educations - described hope as both
and yet also
If we wait in hope and patience, the power of that for which we wait is already effective within us. Those who wait in an ultimate sense are not that far from that for which they wait.
The birth of Jesus and his ultimate return are like two bookends bracketing the present – the time in between - during which the power of what we wait in hope for is already effective within us; turning us away from a hard-hearted complicity with despair that disempowers us in the face of the many injustices that need to be corrected in this world. Buoyed by Advent’s hope we continue to forge new pathways for the kingdom’s coming, one step and one breath at a time.
See you in Church this Sunday for Advent II.